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Universities of Great Britain and Ireland: aftermath of First World War

Universities in Great Britain and Ireland felt effects of First World War 1919. Students at University of London stated in their journal: "The entire globe was shrouded in shadows, and there is no place darker than University."

As young men volunteered to fight after 1916 and large numbers of students were called up for military service, number of schools dwindled and university buildings were occupied by war effort. A lively debate about role of universities in wartime unfolded in letters to editors of The Times in August 1914: university presidents argued that their institutions would remain open, while other participants sought to put pressure on all students by enrolling them immediately, i.e. " show your neighbor your duty."

Key Moment: Sheldon Rothblatt describes World War I as "a turning point in university-state relations." Thomas Irish emphasizes impact of conflict on British, French and American higher education, arguing that few institutions have been more affected by war than universities.

According to Ireland, governments realized importance of scientific research and higher education in conduct of national wars, which made First World War not only a military but also a scientific conflict.

During war years and in post-war period, institutions similar to departments of universities and colleges were created in many countries, including Ministry of Scientific and Industrial Research (1915), Council of Provosts and Rectors (1918), Committee for University grants (1919) and Association of University Teachers (1919).

In years after armistice, a large number of former military personnel began to receive higher education. During 1919-1920 session, about 17,000 ex-servicemen were enrolled in university institutions of Great Britain and Ireland, almost half of student body.

Veterans formed core of student welfare in 1920s and were also instrumental in shaping national student movement. However, scientific work on post-war students remains limited. Although it was noted that "direct influx of post-war students" was "an increase in veterans' scholarships", this phenomenon has not been systematically reviewed.

Universities of Great Britain and Ireland: aftermath of First World War

The pension scheme is first time government has offered scholarships to individual non-teacher students, and number of scholarships is unprecedented in UK higher education. David Fowler acknowledges that these measures have had a "strong" effect on "the social transformation of UK university system".

The introduction of veterans grants is a major development in public funding for higher education for students, and presence of members of military generation on college campuses has raised questions about local commemorations. In addition, this cohort played an important role in restoration of student life.

Relevant surveys are multi-layered, covering higher education policy and university developments, while UK higher education literature tends to be divided into surveys and university histories, with a particular focus on Oxford and Cambridge.

On contrary, discussion of national development can be combined with examples of specific institutions in London and England. For London, focus is on University College London (hereinafter abbreviated as UCL) and London Day Study College (LDTC, now UCL Institute of Education).

In North East of England, consider Durham University, including one of its constituent institutions in Newcastle, Armstrong College. These examples have been chosen to reflect diversity of higher education sector in England.

Durham offers a particularly rich material, on one hand, he tries to emulate model of ancient university, on other hand, his college in Newcastle has much in common with civil universities that arose in several English cities in nineteenth century.

The University of London, founded 1826, is largest college in London, offering a wide range of courses across six colleges with 849 students on eve of World War II. I > full-time students and 1357 part-time students.

Universities of Great Britain and Ireland: aftermath of First World War

The London Day School was founded in 1902 to train teachers for expanding London school system. The LDTC was created jointly by London County Council and University of London and is linked to national development.

Full-time colleges have been in existence since 1890, reflecting growing role of universities in education, and in this respect colleges are "the ancestors of modern university department of education."

In addition, after Balfour Act in 1902, local educational authorities became actively involved in training of teachers and for this purpose created universities, in which there were 22 such institutions from 1902 until outbreak of First World War . By 1914 there were over 300 students at LDTC, most of whom completed "four-year course", which consisted of three years at one of University of London's colleges followed by a year of graduate study.

Durham University received its Royal Charter in 1832. In its university structure, Durham follows example of Oxford and Cambridge universities. In fact, Robert Anderson once said, "Originally it was Oxbridge of Gentlemen of North". .

In twentieth century, higher education in Durham was centered on theology and often had only a few hundred students, with many more attending University College near Newcastle upon Tyne, and in 1913 medical faculty had 220 students, and Armstrong College (founded 1871) had 722 students.

Point of view. In some ways, Armstrong is like red-brick universities of nineteenth century, as William White said, "Students give a different education."

Universities of Great Britain and Ireland: aftermath of First World War

Armstrong's focus was on mining and science, and as a civilian institution he was co-founded with local business elite and thrived on latter's donations.

When war broke out, student numbers across UK declined sharply, although academic teaching continued, with over 2,800 UCL members and over 2,500 Durham members serving during war.

At time, term "members" included students, ex-students, faculty, and other employees, including hundreds of young people who had been students or employees ten years before start of war.

A large number of them never returned: at least 301 UCL members and 325 Durham members died in war.

The situation with LDTC is somewhat different, due to her professional background. A shortage of teachers meant that timetable was revised to accommodate school time, and female cadets were sent to boys' schools for first time. However, LDTC also has many male students who serve in wartime.

By 1916, out of 211 LDTC students, only 16 boys remained, and a total of 3 employees and 37 students were killed during conflict.

More than 25% of full-time students at Armstrong College and UCL are women, and there are actually more women than men among part-time students at UCL.

Female students contributed to war effort in many ways, such as Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) created at UCL in 1914. Members of group serve on VAD St Pancras Ambulance Brigade, some receive care in military hospitals in France, other female students support war effort in munitions factories and canteens, or join University of London student body while working during holidays.

At same time, at Armstrong College, student press repeatedly mentioned fact that some women had gone into military.

Weapons work is a very important job, which also reflects importance of military industry in economy. In December 1916, Armstrong's student magazine announced that an Armstrong graduate had been killed while serving in Scottish Women's Medical Corps, thus becoming "the first woman to give her life in service of her country".

The university's support for war effort is beyond responsibilities of its members, and research activities of many academic departments have been directed towards war effort, which also had implications for teaching.

Universities of Great Britain and Ireland: aftermath of First World War

University College London, for example, accepted more than 120 Belgian refugee students in 1915, and in later stages of war college founded University of London Haki, a YMCA initiative to provide higher education to students of more than 1,500 members of Canadian Forces who served for abroad, took such courses at UCL.

In addition, parts of University College London and several colleges in Durham have been converted into military hospitals. Requisitioned at same time as Newcastle and Armstrong buildings, they became site of Northern General Hospital, which treated over 10,000 wounded soldiers.

The staff and students of medical faculty are actively involved in work of hospital, and some students return to their university as doctors. In meantime, lectures and courses are being held elsewhere in Newcastle, with various local institutions "putting their premises at disposal of evicted homeless".

On contrary, LDTC successfully resisted War Department's attempts to expropriate buildings, and although LDTC provided temporary housing for several other training academies, they were small and did not interfere with normal operation of LDTC.

After armistice, demobilization led to a sharp increase in number of students, and all contemporary sources and historical records refer to words "flood" or "influx" of retired soldiers. Many students have returned to their alma maters on vacation, while others have entered college for first time.

By 1922, total number of university students in England and Wales had almost doubled from pre-war period, and rector of University College London called 1919-1920 a miracle in history of British universities and said that due to lack of space, 400 applicants were rejected by University of London.

At LDTC, over 900 students attended classes of 1921-1922, three times number before war.

However, this does not hide significant regional differences. By 1921, number of students at Durham University was about 1,100, of which 900 were at Newcastle College, with no major difference from pre-war period.

This relative stagnation can be attributed to special local restrictions, as Armstrong receives little compensation from War Department. Moreover, as part of Tyneside's economy fell on hard times after war, financial support from business was not available.

Weapons production is in decline, followed by problems in shipbuilding and mining. As a result, Armstrong College found it difficult to accommodate large number of new students, and temporary classrooms had to be housed in Auxiliary Lodges, some of which were used by teachers until end of World War II.

Universities of Great Britain and Ireland: aftermath of First World War

An article in The Northerner, college's student magazine, commented:"We'll leave classroom to sit on windowsill."However, space elsewhere is also a problem, with growing student population at UCL causing concerns about overcrowding and teaching ability.

National development is also linked to social expansion of student body, thanks to new funding mechanisms that allow more young people to complete secondary education and go to university. Universities across UK have set up various private scholarships for ex-servicemen or their children, usually to compensate for loss of a son or father.

Of these, Lord Kitchener Scholarship Program was largest, but main measure to increase number of students came from a national initiative, when in December 1918 Board of Education announced a program for "former British officers and privates serving in Royal Navy, Army or Air Force" provides university scholarships using funding provisions of Fisher Education Act.

In order to understand introduction of Veterans Scholarship Program, it is important to trace programs discussed before and during war.

In 1913, Council of Public Education set up an advisory committee to consider question of scholarships in institutions of higher education. The committee's work was suspended due to outbreak of war, but resumed due to urgency of post-war reconstruction planning.

The committee compared state support for university education in England and Wales with that of Germany and recommended a new scholarship scheme that was introduced only after war.

German universities enjoy a high international reputation and have traditionally been starting point for discussions about higher education in UK. Author's opinion: According to Keith Vernon, "The continued destruction of Germany's economy, empire, and military presence in early twentieth century meant that their message was accepted by many."

Another incentive for scholarships comes from field of adult education: The Workers' Educational Association (WEA), founded in 1903, is a pioneer in this field. Its activities range from field trips to summer schools based on college tutoring.

These courses are offered by academics and funded by universities and governments. From beginning, educational reformers at Oxford were active in World Education League, but shortage of students during war raised further questions about provision of higher education at Oxford and elsewhere.


Balfour Act 1902

Fischer Education Act of 1918

Armstrong State University student magazine The Northerner 1922

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